Saturday, April 08, 2006

History Channel and the Presidents

Today there was a marathon of The Presidents series on the History Channel. I had seen bits and pieces of this series, but this was the first time I had been able to catch most of the episodes. Yes, yes, I’m geek enough to have spent all day watching it (I didn’t get to see the very beginning of the first one and the last two episodes as I eventually had to do something). In defense of myself, I did use the time to prep course materials. But it was so nice of the History Channel to have on something I actually wanted to see…anything I like seems to never come up again!

I was actually very impressed by this series. It managed to hit most of the important issues and treated them well. I had actually heard of many of the chosen speakers before this series. That in itself impressed me. Some documentaries (I’ll be nice and just leave it at “some” – although I usually like the history channel’s work) make me wonder where they dredged up their “experts.”

I see this as a series that could be very useful in classroom. It is interesting enough to catch most students’ interest and it is presented in a way that you could use much of it at any level (for younger students you might want to just uses pieces and stop and explain at times).

Some things I particularly liked:

  • The narrator’s explanations – they are concise and easy to understand without being overly simplistic. This also really helps to make this series universally applicable in US history classes – it shows how the president’s decisions and policies affect the “rest” of US history.
  • The modern political comparisons that will help to bring the past presidents into students’ world views. Both the narrator and the experts make comparisons how certain events, policies, etc. are comparable to that of President Bush’s or other modern events.
  • Good use of videos, photographs and reconstructions to augment narration.
  • The little “number” introductions that would make it easy to use in the classroom for just one president.
  • How other important politicians were mentioned and given credit for various contributions.
  • How all the presidents were treated fairly and with respect.
  • The very human way the presidents were portrayed, which I think will help keep audience interest.

Some things that I did not like (and I admit some of these are personal):

  • Except when it directly affected politics (i.e., the slander of Rachel Jackson that lead to Jackson’s hatred of certain people), the wives were left out. To me, it just isn’t possible to talk about James Polk with mentioning Sarah…but that might just be me.
  • I would have liked to see more audio use on some of the presidents. I know there is audio for TR and I would have liked to see that used (his voice is just so distinctive). They did a good job with FDR and audio. I didn’t see the most modern presidents so I don’t know how they did that. There is also audio on Woodrow Wilson and I think that would have added as well.
  • Some presidents, due to the issues in their terms, got a lot more airtime that others…this is to be expected, but some of the presidents I felt were cheated. I thought, for instance, Andrew Jackson went on forever…and that time could have been better used on James Polk (can you tell who I like….)

Overall, though I really thought this was a good series and would be of great use in the classroom.


Michael said...

I love the History Channel! There is almost always something interesting on.

Jennie W said...

I just get aggravated because it seems much of their programming is on the same subjects - Hitler and World War II. I'm sure its because there is a lot of materials on those subjects as well as it high interest, but I just want to see more variety. Not to say that I don't adore some of their shows. I'm trying to watch "10 days that unexpectedly changed america" this week.

Michael said...

And they also have weird stuff on the occult and bigfoot. ("Giganto: The Real King Kong" comes to mind.) However, I usually find their programming of interest if I do not have to argue with the boys about which show to watch. (They prefer Nick Toons!)

Jennie W said...

Hey did you watch the McKinley episode tonight? I asked Elementaryhistoryteacher as well over on her blog - I was really unimpressed by Sarah Vowell. She really ruined what was a great program for me.

Michael said...

No, I did not see it. I was busy working on a paper about the leadership traits of Marcus Aurelius. I hope to be done this week!

Molly said...

Hey! Do you know who the narrator of that special is? I know the voice, but I can't place it and it's killing me!!

Molly said...

Figured it's Edward Hermann, in case you were wondering. Thanks!